In an alternate timeline, Japan was divided after World War II, with the northernmost island of Hokkaido being annexed. Toward the end of the 20th century, a giant tower was constructed on the northern island, and while its purpose remains a mystery, tensions between North and South grow. Middle school friends Hiroki and Takuya share two common interests: a girl named Sayuri and a plan to build a plane to fly to the mysterious tower they can see across the straits in Hokkaido. Both pledge to fly there with Sayuri one day, but time and circumstances separate the trio before the plane can be finished. Years later, with war looming on the horizon, their paths cross again as the two boys learn that Sayuri has been asleep for years and cannot wake. Somehow her condition is connected to the mysterious tower and interaction with parallel universes, but in her dreams Sayuri awaits for an old promise to be fulfilled—and holds the key to the world’s salvation.
Even though Shinkai Makoto had an entire production team to help him create The Place Promised in Our Early Days, he was involved in almost every aspect of production. Due to this, The Place Promised in Our Early Days still has the same independent feel as 5 Centimeters Per Second despite its production. Perhaps the highest praise of all came when people began referring to Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”. A tight, focused work of art, it will not be to every viewer’s taste, but it is difficult to find fault with as a visual and emotional feast.
Unfortunately, I think so much attention was placed on nuance and subtlety that the film stumbles a bit in its final act. When it comes to the answering some of the question that are naturally raised by the plot, Shinkai remains withdrawn. The disrepair of the tools of everyday life is also something of a more subtle ongoing theme. Intentional or not, it evokes the quiet-life nostalgia of lived-in places.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days is a wonderful anime about following your dreams. The ups and downs of the characters following their dreams while sometimes losing sight of who they really are is easy to relate to. This time around he mostly avoids the use of action scenes, keeping the story pure to its characters and crafting a gently-flowing, unadulterated drama which alternates back and forth between present day and three years past. It reaffirms Makoto Shinkai’s status as one of Japan’s most gifted and promising young animators and rates as a worthy view for any anime fan who can appreciate gentle dramatic stories.